Santos reaches top rung
The slugger from Saint Louis steps out of the bushes
Chad Santos has been a professional ballplayer long enough to know something big must be brewing when the manager stops by for a late-night meeting.
So the Fresno Grizzlies first baseman's spirits plunged south for a moment early Sunday morning when he was presented with a choice between a demotion to Connecticut -- the San Francisco Giants' Double-A affiliate -- or have his contract purchased by a team in Mexico.
"That's the two worst things he can tell you," Santos said.
"And then he said, 'Or you can go to San Francisco -- it's up to you.' And I just lost it."
After more than seven years of scraping by in the minors, Santos, 25, got the long-awaited call to the majors just after midnight on Sunday and made his Giants debut that afternoon.
His promotion meant driving out of Colorado Springs in the dark of morning followed by a 6 a.m. flight to San Francisco. He then had to hustle to AT&T Park in time for a 1 p.m. game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite sleeping "about 20 minutes," on the plane, Santos drilled a single in his first major league at-bat in the eighth inning.
It was a joyous leg in a journey that took the Saint Louis School graduate through towns like Spokane, Burlington, Wilmington, Wichita, Omaha and Fresno on his way to The Show.
"I was on Cloud 9," said Santos, who quickly got on the phone to share the news with his family.
"I'm not a crying guy, but I was crying, my wife was crying, my mom and dad, we were all on the phone at the same time. We just couldn't believe what just happened.
"What made it more great was my first big league game was my daughter's birthday. It was unreal. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Except, perhaps, for getting hits in each of his first three games and needing just five at-bats to log his first home run.
Swinging from the left side, Santos launched a two-run blast to center field off San Diego starter Chan Ho Park in the second inning of San Francisco's 9-3 win on Thursday.
"It was a fastball middle-away," Santos said. "I'm always that kind of hitter, just ready to hit the fastball and adjust otherwise. He gave me that cookie and I took advantage of it."
Still, Santos' tenure with the Giants could be brief. San Francisco acquired Shea Hillenbrand from Toronto last night and Hillenbrand is expected to be in uniform for today's game against San Diego. Mark Sweeney started at first base in the Giants' win over the Padres yesterday.
After being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 22nd round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, Santos admits to wondering if his opportunity would ever come.
He spent three years with the Royals' Single-A team and played two years at Double-A Wichita before being promoted last year to Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .259 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs.
Santos' minor league paycheck didn't stretch very far, and he often entertained thoughts of heading home to Kaneohe with his wife, Jessica, and now-5-year-old daughter, Kamalani.
"Oh man, you don't even know how many times I wanted to quit," Santos said. "A lot of people don't understand the life of a minor leaguer. ... You have to grind it out every day. I really don't know how I did it. And coming from the islands, all you think about is home. I can say I'm proud of myself for going through all that."
During the offseason, Santos worked construction jobs with his uncle to earn some cash, while Jessica waited tables as they tried to save enough to last them through the season.
"We didn't have no money, nothing, and we found a way to do it," Santos said.
"Both of our parents, they helped us out a lot," Jessica said. "If we ever needed extra money, they were there for us to help us and they always stood by him."
Since he hadn't been added to the Royals' 40-man roster after six years in the organization, Santos became a free agent and hooked on with the Giants.
He began the season with Triple-A Fresno and was hitting .263 with 12 homers and a team-high 63 RBIs when he was called up to replace a struggling Lance Niekro, becoming the 37th player to attend high school or college in Hawaii on his way to the majors.
"We've been waiting for this forever, Chad worked so hard," said Jessica Santos, who is due to give birth to the couple's second child in early October. "When he was a little boy he wrote stories about being in the major leagues, and to have his dream come true, it was well worth all the struggles we've been through."
Said Chad Santos: "We stick together and it's like we all three made it, not just me."
Kamalani's fifth birthday included a drive from Fresno to San Francisco, where she watched her father make his debut with the Giants.
He thrilled the family members who attended Thursday's game with his home run, which also brought a pat on the back from San Francisco's embattled slugger.
"(Barry) Bonds finally acknowledged me, so it was awesome," Santos said. "Just, 'good job kid.' "
Santos said he understands if Bonds prefers to keep to himself as he pursues baseball's home run record while dealing with legal problems off the field.
"Everybody kind of leaves him alone because he has all that stuff going on. It must be crazy," Santos said. "Everybody just gives him his space and just lets him be because he is a good guy, a good teammate."
As he tries to provide the Giants with some pop in the lineup and a reliable glove at first, Santos doesn't need to be reminded to savor every day of his major league experience.
Seven years in the minors will do that.
"In baseball, that's all you need, the opportunity to show what you've got in the majors," he said. "There's a lot of good people in the minor leagues, a lot of good players that never get their shot.
"Just getting here is the first goal, now the hardest part is staying here. I'm just going to do what I've been doing the past eight years, just play ball, play hurt, play whenever."